SALT LAKE CITY — Days after a resolution was introduced to the U.S. Senate that would deny citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, the University of Utah Law school hosted a debate to explore whether the 14th Amendment should be changed.
Both Peter Schuck, a law professor at Yale University, and Margaret Stock, an Alaskan attorney and adjunct professor at the University Alaska Anchorage, said immigration reform is needed, but Stock argued strongly against changes to the 14th Amendment.
"I think Congress needs to fix the immigration laws and enforce them, not change the Constitution," Stock said.
Under the resolution proposed by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and David Vitter, R-La., citizenship would be denied to U.S.-born children of refugees, asylees, American Samoan U.S. nationals serving in the military, illegal immigrants and others.
"I assume they just made some drafting errors," Stock joked.
Denying citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants would create a bureaucratic nightmare by augmenting the number of illegal immigrants, Stock said.
For example, if the 14th Amendment was changed, a child born to a mother a few hours before she was scheduled to naturalize, might not be considered a U.S. citizen, Stock added.
About 8 percent of military recruits are birthright citizens, or citizens born to illegal immigrants, Stock said. Changing the 14th Amendment would mean those recruits would no longer be eligible for military service and many more could opt out of a draft.
On the other side, Schuck argued a resolution that would change the 14th Amendment to require U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants to live in the country for several years before becoming a citizen would discourage illegal immigration.
"There is actual payoff crossing the border illegally, having a child in the United States," Schuck said. "That's the wrong signal as to the nature of our political community."
Schuck said the extreme example of this problem is when a wealthy mother gives birth to a child in the United States to accrue a U.S. birth certificate before leaving shortly after. They want the certificate so their child can return to the states for work or school without applying for a visa, he said.
Because these children don't have any long-term relationship with the United States, Schuck argued the 14th Amendment should be changed to ensure they don't have citizenship.
Schuck said that because undocumented children are guaranteed basic human rights, such as the right to a public education, changing the 14th Amendment wouldn't be calamitous to innocent U.S. born children of illegal immigrants.
Teneille Brown, an associate professor at the University of Utah's College of Law, organized the debate.
"We brought in these two individuals who have written and spoken on this extensively hopefully to kind of tease out some of the nuance in some of these arguments and not make it such a black-and-white issue," Brown said.
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